May 17, 2018

Agile Metrics: Velocity

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Agile Metrics are meant to serve certain purpose(s) and can be very useful if leveraged appropriately. In this series, I want to share my experiences of how metrics may be used, abused and effectively become focal point of failure of Agile adoption in an organization.

Velocity is an indication of the average amount of Product Backlog turned into an Increment of product during a Sprint by a Scrum Team, tracked by the Development Team for use within the Scrum Team. There is no such thing as a Good Velocity or a Bad Velocity. Remember, it is based on relative estimations. Let’s understand with some examples on how a powerful Velocity metric can turn from Good, to Bad, to Ugly.

The Good: Along with other inputs like team capacity, prior commitments, Velocity helps Development Team decide how many Product Backlog Items they may forecast for current Sprint. Velocity also helps Product Owner to gauge how quickly a team may work through the backlog, because the report tracks the forecast and completed work over several iterations. The Product Owner may revise the forecasted delivery timelines based on the variations in velocity of the Development Team.

Velocity is absolutely awesome and GOOD metric when it is used by the Scrum team themselves to understand their progress, their strengths and how they can improve Sprint over Sprint to become better. Leveraging Velocity for any other purpose by people outside the Scrum Team may quickly result in this metric being abused and making it BAD.

The Bad: I have had instances where leaders have asked me questions like, “If two teams have similar skillset, shouldn’t their velocities be similar?”, “Team A’s Velocity is 2 times that of Team B’s – shouldn’t Team A work on the remaining Product Backlog Items for faster delivery?” This prompts me to explain to them that each team would use their internal consensus to estimate the size of tasks at hand. Such sizing of efforts may differ from team-to-team due to differences in the reference points for these two teams. Size of task ‘X’ for Team A may be larger than its size for Team B, because former may be used to slicing efforts to smaller sizes and thus resulting in ‘larger’ estimates. This may make Team A’s velocity appear higher than Team B’s velocity.

Leveraging velocities for such comparisons will not yield any benefits. In fact, such comparisons make teams very uncomfortable, as they quickly understand that leaders are using this metric to measure the collective team and possibly their individual productivity.

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The Ugly: When Leadership decides to use improvement in Velocity as a measure to gauge Development Teams’ performance and teams become aware about it, things become ugly. Now Development Teams will start fudging the sizes of their PBI’s / tasks to ‘bloat’ their velocity, just to ensure they appear to meet (may be even beat) their target velocity. At this point transparency will cease to exist in the team ensuring mechanical Scrum implementation resulting in sub-optimal metrics and delivery.

To sum up, Velocity is a result, not a desire. Velocity is a good metric for Scrum Teams to leverage for its internal purpose with the idea of continuous improvement. The moment this metric is used for any other purpose, the teams and organization will lose the benefits that Scrum has to offer. This will result in Zero-sum game for the entire organization and they will lose focus on their Agility goals.



Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi